A Moment on the Soapbox

I spend Inauguration Morning 2013 trying to write and thinking about inaugurating another diet for the umpteenth time.  (There have been multiple first diet days since the first of this year.)  It seems an strange day to be dwelling on something so mundane.  It’s MLK-day after all.  Our country’s first African-American president is getting worn in for the second time.   And yet, somehow, letting the mundane absorb the three members of our family who got to stay home for the holiday is oddly appropriate.

I’ve lived on two other continents in two different hemispheres.  Thanks to my parents’ wanderlust, I had the opportunity – at a young age – to see how bad it can be but also how the good we have isn’t necessarily isolated.  We got to plenty of countries where elections happened peacefully and where political debates are lively.

As youngsters, however, my sister and I also had the chance to travel and live in South America at a time when election results were often in dispute and transfer of power wasn’t always peaceful. Widespread poverty (and depending on the year, dangerous conditions) was a common symptom of the political instability, and I have memories of walking with my mother in Lima, Peru and noticing many beggars parked between street vendors.  My parents still maintain the friendships they made there, and I remember hearing occasionally of one friend or another having to leave the country quickly even after a relatively peaceful election.  It was anything but mundane.

I thought of that today as I took the kids to Bob’s Diner in Manchester Vermont for a treat.  Always hopping, it was a mob scene on this holiday morning.  The bulk of the dining population was of the tourist variety, but – as always- there was variety.

There were well-heeled flatlanders in perfectly coordinated ski pants and jackets sitting shoulder to shoulder with burly plow drivers in their customized jackets.  There were Obama stickers on pickup trucks and Ron Paul and Romney stickers on slick new SUV’s from ‘down south’.  There were T-shirts with slogans ranging from the peaceful to the political to the profane, and it was just another Monday at Bob’s.  Even after an election season completely characterized by cynicism and bitterness, even in the face of an increasingly strident debate on gun rights (and privacy and religious rights), this confluence of humanity – with its politics on its sleeve in some cases – was not only civil, but jovial.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that the Tree of Liberty would need to be refreshed with the bloom of patriots.  I don’t question his courage or passion for his country, and I know he and his suffered to sow the seeds of our liberty.  I also don’t think those words were written without an understanding of their potential consequences.  But Jefferson did come of age in an era when duels at twenty paces were still considered a reasonable way to settle a dispute.

Now, when I look at events around the world and see the human consequences of refreshing each country’s soul by pitting citizen against citizen, I know there has to be a better way.  And, listening to one of Bob’s cheeky waitresses cheerfully debate the issues of the day with a hot-headed regular, hearing their banter rise above the clattering of dishes and cries of ‘Order up!’, I realize that we have it, and it starts with hotcakes and coffee and a side of home fries.  It may be mundane, but there’s something to be said for that too.

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